Thursday, May 21, 2015

Punch Quest (Madgarden/Rocketcat Games, 2012)

Way back in my review of Jetpack Joyride (my 3rd review ever!) I talked about endless runners. While reviewing Bad Dudes vs. Dragon Ninja I talked about the classic Beat 'em Up genre. While Endless Runners are currently one of the most popular types of mobile games, those of us who grew up in the arcades of the late 80s and early 90s still have fond memories of popping token after token into the vast assortment of more or less identical Beat 'em Ups. These two styles of play seem miles away from each other, but somehow the design wizards over at Madgarden found away to merge the two into something new in the form of Punch Quest.

The first thing that struck me about Punch Quest (no  pun intended) was the amount of thought that must have gone into the controls. Endless Runners tend to have extremely simple controls, often using the entire touchscreen as a single button that is your only input. Arcade Beat 'em Ups were a bit more complex, tending to use a joystick for eight directional movement along with three buttons: Punch/Weapon, Jump, and Kick/Special Move. Punch Quest squeezes all of this into the equivalent of two buttons. The right half of the screen is Jab/Special Move/Forward Dash, and the left half is Uppercut/Jump. Pressing them both at the same time triggers a Block and causes your character to stand still until you let go. This gives you an impressive amount of control to the point where it sometimes reminded me of the classic console platformers I grew up on.

Endless Runners take place in a wide variety of environments from realistic to abstract. Punch Quest lands somewhere in between with a surreal monster infested cave/dungeon setting.Your overall objective is fairly irrelevant as is the norm for the genre, something about helping a gangsta' gnome leave the planet, but the mood it sets is what gives this experience its unique flavor. To make the never-ending random levels a bit more interesting, the path often splits into an upper or lower option with a simple sign hinting at what each choice has to offer. This is a great help when a quest requires a specific action such as using a powerup or defeating a boss.

Wait, boss fights? In an Endless Runner? Surprisingly, yes! While the game is clearly a runner at its core, it borrows the idea of boss fights from its Beat 'em Up roots. You don't actually stop running to fight the bosses. Instead, they fly along with you to stay on the screen, similar to the bosses in classic Beat 'em Up vehicle stages. The variety of attacks and strategies offered actually exceeds what is typically seen in the genre, and reminded me of classic platformer boss battles. The flying giant punching fist machine for example could easily have been in an early Sonic the Hedgehog title. Figuring out the best strategy and powerup combination for each boss was part of the fun, and quickly defeating the ones that previously gave so much trouble was very satisfying.

Speaking of powerups, this game has some that are actually useful! New attack special moves and platforming techniques can be unlocked and equipped in various combinations allowing you to customize the overall feel of the game. Personally, I enjoyed the forward punch that slows your descent after a jump, allowing you to span much larger chasms, and spend more time punching those pesky flying enemies. Some of these powerups are always active, and some only work after your Punch Meter reaches a certain point. There are also a number of cosmetic add-ons including the obligatory expansive hat selection to let you look however you'd like. Race and gender options also go far beyond the standard white dudes only approach similar games take.

As I mentioned in my Jetpack Joyride review, it's the mission system that really makes these types of games click for me. Sure, high scores are fun, but I like to feel I'm accomplishing something. Punch Quest borrows heavily from Jetpack Joyride's quest system, and it works just as well here. I was able to get lost in this strange world for many a lunch break and there was always that little voice in the back of my head urging just one more quick run.

Back in my Wake review I mentioned how retro graphics are becoming so common that they're starting to feel dated again. The art style in Punch Quest is certainly pixel art based, but has more of a modern leaning rather than an obvious attempt at a 16-bit look. It's a matter of opinion. I thought the graphics looked nice, but I probably would have preferred nice rounded edges instead. I did appreciate that it supports both portrait and landscape mode, that's a nice bonus! The sound was oddly mixed. The sound effects seemed to be mixed more mid-range and bass heavy while the background music was more treble heavy, the opposite of what is usually expected. It's not a big deal though since as a mobile game you'll probably be playing it muted the majority of the time anyway.

Punch Quest isn't a perfect game, but it is a fun game. It's full of strange ideas made stranger in a way that surprisingly feels both comfortable and familiar. You can play it in short bursts, or spend an afternoon with it. I don't know if I'd go back and play it again, but I enjoyed playing it when I did and if you are a fan of either Endless Runners or Beat 'em Ups, you might enjoy it too.

No comments:

Post a Comment